The Evolution of Transforming Furniture: Celebrating Clei's 60 Year Legacy
Ad for Clei's LGS wall bed design (circa 1970) vs. the modern-day LGM revolving wall bed. While the LGM has been updated with a clean, contemporary profile and numerous technological integrations—including integrated LED lights and USB ports, as well as an optional, removable table or doors on its front—it still utilizes the same time-tested concept as its original revolving mechanism, first patented by Clei in 1972.
This year, we're proud to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Clei, the Italian manufacturer of our luxury multifunctional wall beds.
Since 1963, Clei has revolutionized the concept of transforming furniture, reimagining the clunky and unsightly Murphy beds of the early twentieth century into comfortable, streamlined systems that seamlessly integrate into any space and double (or even triple) its functionality. But the history of Clei is much like that of transforming furniture itself—a long and storied testament to human ingenuity and the spirit of innovation.
The Origins of Transforming Furniture
While wall beds, hideaway desks, and expanding tables may seem like relatively modern inventions, people have been solving for lack of space for as long as we’ve had spaces to inhabit, starting with the first rudimentary folding chairs developed by the ancient Egyptians and later, in the Middle Ages, the first flip-down beds and hideaway desks. The Industrial Revolution in North America saw a resurgence of transforming and multifunctional furnishings; as people fled to cities in droves in search of work, living quarters became modest and compact, necessitating creative furniture solutions to make small spaces livable. The most notable invention of this era, of course, was the Murphy Bed—famously invented around 1900 in San Francisco when William Lawrence Murphy “was falling for a young opera singer, and courting customs at that time would not permit a lady to enter a gentleman's bedroom."
Ad for "Murphy-In-A-Dor Beds," circa 1928.
Enter Clei: Elevating Transforming Furniture Since 1963
But while these early transforming furniture designs undoubtedly saved space, they were ugly, uncomfortable, and often difficult to operate (think Charlie Chaplin’s infamous fight with a Murphy bed in the silent film One A.M.). Fortunately for small-space dwellers everywhere, one innovative family in the Brianza region of Northern Italy set out to change that.
“The functionality of the murphy bed was clear, but so was its ugly design,” explained Pierluigi Colombo, Art Director and Senior Product Designer for Clei, in a 2020 interview. As a result, the murphy bed as a concept hadn’t quite taken off in the European market as it had in the States in the earlier half of the twentieth century.
The Colombo family founded Clei in 1963, with the goal to reinvent these time-tested transforming furniture concepts for the modern home. Clei saw the murphy bed’s space-saving and stylistic potential, but the operating mechanisms and overall design needed a complete overhaul. With innovation, engineering, and an eye for aesthetics, transforming furniture could be reintroduced to the market as a stylish, luxurious solution that would significantly improve quality of life for people living in smaller spaces.
For example: instead of a wall or cabinet that simply hides your bed, why not design a second function into the murphy bed so it can be used 24 hours a day? In the 1970’s, Clei added a table to the classic pull-down bed, patenting the very first ever multi-functional wall bed design.
Pierluigi Colombo can be seen operating a wall bed in this Clei ad from the early 1970’s
Soon the company began to develop all manner of transformable systems — fold-away tables, murphy bunk beds, even a revolving queen-sized bed with an integrated full-height shelving system. And because of the modular design of Clei’s furniture systems, multiple transforming elements can be integrated into a single wall, working in tandem according to the user’s needs.
After studying architecture and design at the Kunst Akademie of Copenhagen and at Politecnico di Milano, Pier built on the company's ideas even further, designing and patenting Clei’s very first wall bed with an integrated sofa on its front. The “sofa wall bed” would become an iconic staple of Resource Furniture’s collection, and of the transforming furniture industry at large.
Resource Furniture Brings Clei to North America
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, furniture industry veterans Ron Barth and Steve Spett worked together at the Pace Collection in New York’s Upper East Side when, in 2000, they decided to found a furniture company of their own—one that would supply top-of-the-line European pieces that exhibited exceptional design and functionality. Together, they started Resource Furniture with little more than a single chair, a room, and a library of catalogs featuring the best furniture designs that Europe had to offer. The concept was to serve as a resource library to the trade—hence the name, Resource Furniture—but within a few short years, the company would find its niche in the world of luxury multifunctional design.
Pier tours YouTuber Kirsten Dirksen through the Clei showroom in 2019.
The financial crisis of 2008 made the buying and selling of homes nearly impossible for thousands of Americans—meaning families had to make do with their existing spaces, even as their households grew. But upon discovering Clei's multifunctional furniture designs at the Milan Furniture Fair, Resource Furniture realized they were uniquely positioned to offer a solution that would enable people to maximize space in their existing homes. At that time, homeowners were in need of furniture that could be put to use 24 hours a day, seven days a week—twin or queen beds that could transform into sofas, dining tables, or desks by day. Resource Furniture’s partnership was a perfect match—which is how, in 2008, Resource became the exclusive North American distributor for Clei, bringing their innovative transforming designs to North America for the very first time.
Sure enough, the concept took off like wildfire. Within a few short years, Resource expanded its flagship showroom location at 969 3rd Avenue, where it continues to curate an impressive collection of transforming and space-optimizing products the likes of which most American consumers have never encountered before.
Core77 visited Resource Furniture's flagship showroom at 969 Third Avenue in 2010.
A Glimpse into the Future: Transforming Furniture in the 21st Century
As we step into the 21st century, transforming furniture continues to evolve faster than ever before. New innovations, such as our LGM 2.0 revolving wall bed and Tonale sofa wall bed with motorized opening mechanism, are pushing the boundaries of what's possible. The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced us to adapt and live within our existing spaces under lockdown, has led many to develop a newfound appreciation for multifunctionality. While the shelter-in-place mandates may feel like a distant memory now, their effect on our environments remains present today, with many people continuing to work from home. The need for flexible, 24/7 functionality has never been greater, and Resource is poised to meet these challenges head-on.
A Legacy of Innovation and Inspiration
Resource Furniture remains at the forefront of the transforming furniture industry, honoring the legacy of our partners at Clei and the spirit of innovation. As the original and best in the business, we are dedicated to crafting solutions that address the needs of the modern household. Our commitment to transforming furniture is not just a celebration of the past, but a promise for a more adaptable and space-efficient future.
In a world where space is perpetually at a premium, transforming furniture offers an ingenious solution that empowers us to make the most of our living spaces. With Clei's 60th anniversary and Resource Furniture's unwavering dedication, we look forward to a future where transforming furniture continues to shape the way we live and work, making every square foot count.